Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Unorthodox View of Boom Towns

Susan Elizabeth Shepard has a post on BuzzFeed called "Wildcatting."  There is a descriptive and lengthy subtitle but as this is a family blog I'm not going to include it.  Shepard is in what one might call the "entertainment / hospitality" business.  She writes primarily about working inWillistown, North Dakota, a drilling boomtown.  If you are an energy specialist or a map afficionado you might remember Willistown as part of the unusual light spot on nighttime satellite maps; most bright spots are cities but the odd spot in North Dakota is the fires at the top of oil wells.

Shepard's essay is illuminating (no pun intended), both of the wildcatting economy and her chosen occupation.  I wondered how similar fracking boomtowns were to Willistown.

Note to disaffected young women -- please read carefully the detailed description of the economic aspects of her line of work.  The recession has hit everyone.

It's an interesting read, regardless.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Kevin Strouse's College Newspaper Column

Kevin Strouse, one of the Democrats running for the 8th congressional district (mostly Bucks County), went to Columbia University, graduating in May, 2001.  During his senior year he wrote a column for the school newspaper, The Columbia Spectator.  Some (all?) of these columns, 22 of them, are online.  I read through some, skimmed the rest (see below for why), and here are some thoughts and observations:

Nothing in the columns I read screamed "future political candidate," but he didn't say anything stupid in any other them either which is a feat others have not managed.  The presence of old college newspaper columns is not always an asset to a campaign but there weren't any red flags here.

He writes well.  The ability to string words together into coherent sentences, supported by facts or observations, is an excellent qualification for someone seeking elected office.  We've seen more than enough examples in the news lately of people who do not seem to be able, in any language, to express themselves effectively or who spout unsupportable gibberish.  Strouse passes this test well.  If these columns are anything to go by, should he show up on the news he will leave a good impression.

The majority of his columns are about sports (which explains why I skimmed them, no sports fan here).  This always seems to play well with the electorate.  But here's the kicker (pardon the pun), he wrote about women's soccer.  There were some Eagles references tossed in here and there in other columns, and one column about Dennis Miller's commentary on "Monday Night Football" (Strouse didn't like it), but mostly he covered women's soccer games.  And, get this!, as a young man he managed to write about women athletes, repeatedly, without talking about their appearance or making double entendres or crass remarks.  Really, look for yourself, he wrote about women athletes as athletes, nothing more nothing less.  We know what position they played and how the team did; he never mentions hair color or build.  It's just like reading a sports column about male athletes.  He wrote about them seriously and professionally.  This was 12 years ago.  Today there are grown adult men in the media who cannot manage to write or talk about women athletes without sounding like ill-mannered sniggering junior high school students.  So, again, points for Strouse.

A few of the columns are on life at Columbia.  He takes his fellow students to task for poor behavior and he writes about administrative rules and practices that make student life difficult.  This is standard college fare.  Strouse writes politely, without resorting to name calling or blanket condemnation.  He cites specific examples and events.  It's  not quite up to the standards of a consumer help column but by college newspaper standards it is quite good.

One plus and one minus:  Strouse mentions (Sept.14, 2000) that he worked in the college library.  I worked in the college library when I was a student and in my experience it is a job that pleasant, competent people gravitate towards.  At least the other student workers I came into contact with were nice and competent.  On the minus side he makes a comment (Oct 12, 2000) about short people holding umbrellas in such a way that they poke taller people in the face.  He suggests an umbrella policy for the under 5' 4" crowd.  As a vertically challenged American I call him on that.  If I hold my umbrella up high enough that tall people don't get poked I get wet.  Deal with it.  Every day I come into contact with office chairs, car seats, grocery store shelves, and assorted other structures, that are clearly designed for those of average and above height, and usually for the average male height, which is considerably taller than me.  But this seems a minor point in the larger scheme of things.

As mentioned, the columns are online and I encourage interested voters in the 8th district to take a look for themselves.  The soccer columns may be of especial interest to women voters or to men with daughters.

Friday, July 26, 2013


from the inbox:

“SEPTA is the vehicle, but the journey is yours.” The Authority’s trains, buses and trolleys transport people across the Philadelphia region, but where riders choose to go as they “SEPTA” Philly is entirely up to them. And the recently re-designed ISEPTAPHILLY.com website can serve as a commuter’s treasure map — full of ideas for places to visit, lists of discounts for SEPTA pass holders and links to SEPTA schedules, maps and a tripplanner.
“When we launched ‘ISEPTAPHILLY’ last year, the goal was to have our commuters, especially those between the ages of 18-34, upload videos and Instagram photos of their mass transit stories to inspire others to use our system,” said SEPTA Director of Marketing Elizabeth Bradford. “The site has evolved into a place not only where our current riders can submit their SEPTA experiences via photos and emails, but it is also the spot where new and potential riders can get information they need to create their own SEPTA stories.”
Among ISEPTAPHILLY.com’s new features are “How-to-SEPTA” videos. Through four, two minute user-friendly videos, website visitors learn how to navigate the Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, buses, trolleys and Regional Rail, and make connections between modes. “The videos use real SEPTA riders as tour guides and break down fare information and key transfer points,” said Bradford.
The site is chock full of must-see places across the region — all accessible by SEPTA — and discount perks customers can take advantage of simply by presenting their SEPTA passes.
There are also details on how to score cool prizes, from the in-demand “If It’s SEPTA, Ride It” t-shirts to museum passes and concert tickets, by participating in the “ISEPTAPHILLY Scavenger Hunt” for old Regional Rail signs and checking in using Foursquare.
The Authority launched its ISEPTAPHILLY campaign in spring 2012 to attract the next generation of public transit riders. In unscripted commercials, customers in the 18-34 targeted age group reminisce about the first time they rode SEPTA when they were kids.
“SEPTA is so much more than a way to get to and from work or school,” said Bradford. “It’s a means for exploring places across the city and region you might have never known existed.
We want ISEPTAPHILLY.com to be the starting point for those adventures.” Riders can document their SEPTA travels by submitting photos to the Authority’s Instagram feed. Photos are showcased on ISEPTAPHILLY.com.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Constitution Center's Offer to Grandparents

Grandfathers are the most wonderful people in the world.  That's just a known fact.  The National Constitution Center is recognizing this by giving grandparents a discount on selected days.  And remember, you don't have to be related to the kids to be their grandparent.  Gather up the family and go for an outing.

The National Constitution Center is celebrating grandparents and senior citizens with discounts on admission, parking, and gift shop purchases on Thursday, August 8 and Wednesday, August 21, 2013. These specially designed discount days are an unforgettable (and affordable!) way to spend a summer afternoon with grandchildren and loved ones.
 Grandparents and senior citizens (ages 65+) will enjoy a discounted $10 general museum admission price that includes The 1968 Exhibit—a 30% savings! Those interested in taking advantage of this special deal should mention the code ‘GRANDPARENT’ when purchasing tickets. Tickets can be purchased online at constitutioncenter.org, on the phone by calling 215-409-6700, or in-person at the museum box office. In addition, seniors will enjoy discounted parking in the museum’s underground parking garage, as well as 20% off merchandise in the museum gift shop (excludes books, publications, CDs & DVDs, previously discounted merchandise and sale merchandise).

Two Short Videos on Jobs

A couple of videos for your viewing pleasure.

LIUNA, a union representing over 500,000 construction workers, has produced a video outlining issued relating to legislation  designed to weaken unions (the poorly named "right to work" laws).

For more information on workplace issues watch Nick Hanauer's TED talk on job creation.    (I like TED talks and sometimes watch them while eating lunch at my desk.)

Full disclosure:  I am a union member and currently hold an elected union office.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prez O on Student Loan Bill

from the inbox:

Statement by the President on Student Loans
 A better bargain for the middle class means making a college education available to every single American willing to work for it.  That’s why I applaud the wide bipartisan majority of Senators who passed a bill to cut rates on nearly all new federal student loans, rolling back a July 1st rate hike and saving undergraduates an average of more than $1,500 on loans they take out this year. 
This compromise is a major victory for our nation’s students.  It meets the key principles I laid out from the start: it locks in low rates next year, and it doesn’t overcharge students to pay down the deficit.  I urge the House to pass this bill so that I can sign it into law right away, and I hope both parties build on this progress by taking even more steps to bring down soaring costs and keep a good education – a cornerstone of what it means to be middle class – within reach for working families.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pennsylvanians in the News

A few interesting PA references in a backlog of reading:

"Fifty percent of 'The Tipping Point' is wrong," by Danielle Sacs, April 2013 Fast Company, is a feature length article on Wharton prof Jonah Berger.    He teaches a course called Contagious.  Berger sounds interesting.  His premise is that "influentials," if such people exist, don't have as much influence as previously thought.

More magazine hired a 40-plus year old intern; Ruth Morganto of the Philly suburb, got the job.  The magazine has posted her work diaries on their website:  http://www.more.com/reinvention-money/careers/mores-over-40-intern-diaries

Hillary Clinton to Receive Liberty Medal

from the inbox:

Tickets to the 2013 Liberty Medal Ceremony, honoring former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, will be available to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 6, 2013. Tickets are free and can be ordered from Ticketmaster at 866-492-6326. Callers are limited to two tickets per household. National Constitution Center members can call 866-492-6326 on Monday, August 5, 2013, at 10 a.m. to order tickets. Members are also limited to two tickets per household.
 Tickets to exclusive pre-Ceremony receptions and post-Ceremony Gala are currently available for purchase. For details, visitconstitutioncenter.org/libertymedal/support.html. 
The 25th annual Liberty Medal Ceremony will take place rain or shine on Tuesday, September 10, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the National Constitution Center in Historic Philadelphia. The event will be broadcast live on WPVI-TV/6abc and webcast live on www.6abc.com. 
The National Constitution Center will award the prestigious Liberty Medal to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her lifelong career in public service and her ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of women and girls around the globe. Governor Jeb Bush, chair of the National Constitution Center, will present the medal to Secretary Clinton.

Student Loan Deal

from the inbox:

Today, the Obama Administration is calling on Congress to swiftly pass a bipartisan compromise to keep student loan interest rates low this year.  The bipartisan compromise, which is similar to a plan proposed by the President in the spring, will cut rates on all new loans this year and save a typical undergraduate student in Pennsylvania $1,536 over the life of those loans.  The plan allows borrowers to benefit from the low interest rates currently available in the marketplace and guarantees that borrowers are able to lock in these rates over the life of their loans. In the future, fixed rates would be determined each year by market conditions, helping ensure that borrowers’ rates are more in line with the government’s own cost of borrowing, while capping how high rates can rise. The plan also represents a rejection of proposals designed to raise student rates in order to reduce the deficit.
 Lower Interest Rates Now: Under the compromise plan, nearly 11 million borrowers, including 439,257 undergraduate students in Pennsylvania, will see their interest rates decrease on new loans after July 1, 2013. Undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on newloans drop from 6.8 to 3.86 percent, and Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.8percent to 5.41 percent. And GradPLUS anParent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.9 percent to 6.41percentthe first reduction in years.  
$1,536 in Savings for a Typical Pennsylvania Undergraduate: Under the compromise plan, a typical undergraduate borrower in Pennsylvania who borrows $6,886 will save about $1,536 over the life of those loans. Throughout the country, a graduate borrower who borrows $25,666 will save $2,913 over the life of those loans and the average parent borrowing $17,980 working hard to support their child’s college education will feel the relief of $2,066 in savings on the loans they take out next year.  Beyond saving money on their student loans, students and families will have the added protection of student loan interest rate caps in case market rates in the future become too high. 
Protections Against High Rates: The plan caps how high student loan interest rates can rise—a key provision pushed by Senate Democrats—giving students protection against future economic conditions. Undergraduate loans are capped at 8.25 percent, graduate loans at 9.5 percent, and PLUS loans at 10.5 percent.  These loans also include fixed interest rates over the life of the loan, protecting students from the risk that rates will fluctuate over time and providing certainty for borrowers. 
A FiscallResponsible Solution for the Road Ahead on College Affordability The compromise plan rejects calls to raise student rates to reduce the deficit, while keeping the federal student loan programs on secure footing for the future.  It also keeps the focus on the work ahead needed to tackle broader issues affecting college affordability for American families by ensuring we have thnecessarresources available to keep investinin other critical higher education programs such as the Pell grant program. Already, President Obama has made historic investments in college affordability through the expansion of the Pell Grant program, student loan reform and the creation of the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This compromise solution represents an important next step, as the Administration continues to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to tackle rising college tuitions and unaffordable debt.

Brandon Neuman Runs for Lt Gov

State Rep. Brandon Neuman is one of the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor.  Neuman represents part of Washington County.  The former college fullback is in his second term in the state legislature.  He's been making the rounds of area political events to meet people in this area.  Back home he was recently sited at the groundbreaking for a new welding training center in Houston, Washington County (see article in the Canon-McMillan Patch).  There's no campaign website that I can find.

If he and Brendan Boyle show up at the same events it might be easy to confuse them.  Here are some tips for telling them apart: Boyle is running for the 13th congressional district; Neuman for lt gov.  Boyle is a Brendan; Neuman is a Brandon.  Neuman is the taller of the two; Boyle is a few years older.  Neuman was first elected to the state house in 2010; Boyle in 2008.  Now you know.

DePasquale's First Six Months

from the inbox last week:

 Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said that during his first six months in office he has made progress to better serve taxpayers and bring the Department of Auditor General into the 21st Century by improving technology, reducing expenditures and streamlining the audit process.
“The first six months presented some challenges, and because of budget limitations we had to make some tough financial and operational decisions,” DePasquale said.  “However, we’ve made significant progress toward fulfilling my pledge to make the Pennsylvania Department of Auditor General one of the most forward-thinking, responsible and effective state agencies of its type.
“Cutting costs and improving procedures are important, but eliminating the ‘but-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way’ mantra is helping the department move forward.  We are not there yet, but we are definitely on track.”DePasquale said that since January, the department has:
*        reduced travel expenses by $128,000 in fiscal year 2012-13 compared to 2011-12 by allowing auditors to work from home rather than requiring daily travel to an audit site, planning audit assignments based upon proximity to an auditor’s home, and reducing the department’s vehicle fleet by nearly 40 percent, from 244 vehicles in January 2013 to 151 in July 2013;
*       eliminated a backlog of 1,500 audits in the first 90 days;
*       started implementing a multi-year information technology plan by replacing computers and equipment auditors use, some of which was older than a decade;
*        created a long-term plan for fiscal stability that factors in mandated cost increases for retirement contributions, health care and workers’ compensation;
*        re-organized the department to reduce administrative layers, allowing for more flexibility and sharing of staff and work assignments to create significant cost savings and efficiencies;
          *        began developing  a risk-based approach to auditing;
           *        began developing an improved training program to increase staff skills;
           *        began moving to the SAP accounting and personnel management software that is used by most            other state agencies;
*        began distributing audits electronically and developing a method to use electronic working papers to improve efficiency and make auditors more mobile;  
*        divested the department’s duplicating operation that is estimated to save at least $100,000 per year; and
*        consolidated offices to reduce the cost incurred for leased office space, resulting in a total reduction in real estate rentals of $320,000 in fiscal year 2012-13 compared to 2011-12.

Record Ridership on Regional Rail

A note from our friends at SEPTA.  As I have mentioned, I ride SEPTA frequently, and find it reliable, safe, and affordable.  The riders and the conductors are, by and large, friendly people.  Just remember, respect the quiet car, or life can get ugly very quickly.

SEPTA has set a new Regional Rail ridership record, with 36,023,000 trips taken by customers during Fiscal Year 2013, the Authority announced today. Fiscal Year 2013 was the 12-month period from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. Ridership on SEPTA’s 13 Regional Rail lines increased by 2.2 percent over the course of the year.
System-wide, SEPTA recorded 337.3 million trips during the year on its trains, buses and trolleys. While total ridership was down slightly from the 339.3 million trips in Fiscal Year 2012, the numbers for FY 2013 were impacted by a two-day shutdown due to Hurricane Sandy. SEPTA has an average weekday ridership of approximately one million trips.
Over the last 15 years, Regional Rail ridership has increased 50 percent, with annual ridership up from 24 million to 36 million trips. SEPTA’s ridership continues on an upward trend on all modes of travel, with average annual increases of 1.9 percent over the last seven years, and total annual trips up by more than 40 million since 2006.
SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey credits aggressive efforts in recent years to improve SEPTA’s aging infrastructure, as well as customer service-focused initiatives, for helping attract and retain new riders. Regional Rail service has also been enhanced with the addition of 120 new Silverliner V rail cars, which replaced vehicles that dated to the mid-1960s. The Silverliner Vs offer customers state-of-the-art amenities, and have helped improve service reliability.
“SEPTA is thrilled to welcome new riders to the system,” Casey said. “We will continue work on efforts to improve the customer experience, which is helping drive this sustained ridership growth.”
SEPTA’s ridership has grown in recent years despite major funding challenges. SEPTA’s capital budget is projected to remain at approximately $300 million for the fourth consecutive year due to reductions in state funding. This represents a 25 percent decrease compared to Fiscal Year 2010 levels. The capital budget funds critical initiatives, such as infrastructure improvement projects and new vehicle purchases.
Overall, SEPTA’s capital budget is at a 15-year low, and is less than half of that of similar-sized peer transit agencies nationwide. These funding constraints leave SEPTA without funds for a number of vital projects, such as repairs to 1930s-era electrical substations or upgrades to aging bridges. SEPTA’s Fiscal Year 2014 Capital Budget Proposal is available online at www.septa.org/reports. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Theater Review: Noises Off

This evening I saw "Noises Off" at the People's Light & Theatre in Malvern.  The play is by Michael Frayn, directed by Peter Pryor.  It is is being staged through August 4th.

The British comedy follows a touring theatre company from the last rehearsal (act one), to a mid-point in the tour (act two), and then one of the later stops (act three).  The audience sees the same scene of the play within a play, twice as an audience would and once with a backstage view.  As the play goes on there is more physical comedy and slapstick.  The actors do a great job.  I was laughing throughout. The hatchet scene is hilarious.  The character's romantic entanglements and ability to improvise (or lack thereof) with lost lines and malfunctioning props are the focus of the action, although they say it is all about doors and sardines.

Costume designer Marla Jurglanis did an outstanding job.  Vicki's pink underwear, Flavia's teal dress, and Tim's Pokemon t-shirt were outstanding.

The tickets are reasonably priced.  If you are looking for an outing, I encourage you to see this play.  Their offerings next season also look intriguing.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

State Rep. DiGirolamo on HB 790

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo spoke on the House Floor about HB790 (privatizing state liquor stores) on March 21st.  (It takes awhile for the House Journal to be posted online).  He makes three points about his opposition to the bill:  1) state store jobs would be lost, 2) it doesn't make economic sense, and 3) increased access to alcohol would lead to more social ills.

You can read his full remarks, and they are very articulate, in the House Journal for March 21st.  It starts on page 414.

Calculating the Cost of Living

The Economic Policy Institute has designed an interactive calculator.  You select the type of household you have, then the geographic area you live in and it will tell you what it would cost, giving a sample budget, to live securely there.  For the Philadelphia area it's about $77,000.  (hat tip, John Scalzi).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Philly Poverty Survey

Tom Ferrick has posted an interested survey on poverty in Philadelphia.  It's only seven questions and is very informative.  Give it a spin:  http://axisphilly.org/article/poverty-quiz/

Monday, July 15, 2013

Auditor General on Dog Law Enforcement

from the inbox:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said today that the Department of Agriculture must continue to improve enforcement of the dog law program and management of the restricted dog law account from which $8 million was used for unrelated purposes.
A performance audit of the dog law program from 2008 through 2012 shows an intentional lack of enforcement of the state’s dog law and the commercial kennel canine health regulations. During the audit period the dog law restricted revenue account went from $15 million to $3.1 million — $4 million was transferred to the state general fund in 2010, $2.6 million was used for unsupported payroll costs, and $1.4 million was used for unsubstantiated expenditures.
 The full report is available at:  www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Department/Info/StateAgencies.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Local Pension Audits Available

from the inbox:

 Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today released audits of municipal pension plans for local government employees in Adams, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Bucks, Cambria, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Columbia, Crawford, Cumberland, Dauphin, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Somerset, Susquehanna, Snyder, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Westmoreland, and York counties.
State pension aid for police, firefighters and non-uniformed municipal employee pensions is provided from a two-percent tax on out-of-state casualty insurance premiums, a portion of the out-of-state fire insurance tax designated for paid firefighters, and any investment income earned on the collection of these taxes.The objectives of pension plan audits are to determine, for the selected audit period, if the municipality complied with any prior audit recommendations and if the municipal pension plan is in compliance with applicable state laws, regulations, contracts, administrative procedures, and local ordinances and policies.
Specifically, department auditors review issues including whether:
·        state aid was properly determined and deposited according to the requirements of the Municipal Pension Plan Funding Standard and Recover Act;
·        employer contributions were determined and deposited in compliance with the plan’s governing document and applicable state laws and regulations;
·        employee contributions are required, and if so, whether they were properly determined and deposited into the pension plan;
·        benefit payments were properly made only to those entitled to receive them;  
·        obligations for plan benefits were accurately determined under plan provisions and based upon complete and accurate participant data; and
·        actuarial valuation reports were sent to the Public Employee Retirement Commission in accordance with state law and selected information provided on these reports is accurate, complete and in accordance with plan provisions to ensure compliance for participation in the state aid program.

The complete list of audit reports is available online at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Reports/MunPen.html.

Here are the audits for SEPA counties:

New Britain Township Nonuniformed Pension Plan
New Britain Township Police Pension Plan
Warwick Township Nonuniformed Pension Plan
Warwick Township Police Pension Plan

East Vincent Township Nonuniformed Pension Plan
East Vincent Township Police Pension Plan
Kennett Square Borough Nonuniformed Pension Plan
Kennett Square Borough Police Pension Plan
West Chester Borough Nonuniformed Pension Plan
West Chester Borough Police Pension Plan

North Wales Borough Nonuniformed Pension Plan
North Wales Borough Police Pension Plan 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Summer White House Interns from PA

from the inbox:

The White House Internship Program announced today the participants for the Summer 2013 session. The mission of the program is to make the White House accessible to future leaders around the nation and to prepare those devoted to public service for future leadership opportunities.
 A White House Internship provides a unique opportunity to gain valuable professional experience and build leadership skills. Interns work in one of several White House departments, including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, the Office of Cabinet Affairs, the Office of Chief of Staff, the Office of Communications, the Office of Digital Strategy, the Office of the First Lady, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Management and Administration, the Office of Presidential Correspondence, the Office of Presidential Personnel, the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Office of Scheduling and Advance, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of the White House Counsel, and the Office of White House Fellows.
 Additional information about the White House Internship Program is available here: www.whitehouse.gov/internships.  The application for the Spring 2014 program is available on the website.
Interns from Pennsylvania or attending school in Pennsylvania:

Amendolare, Vincent Hometown: Hillsborough, NJ; The Pennsylvania State University, PA
Bendekovits, Amy Hometown: Northampton, PA; Temple University, PA
Botelho, Hannah Hometown: Potomac, MD; The Pennsylvania State University, PA
Caicedo, Melissa Hometown: Bradenton, FL; University Of Pennsylvania, PA
Chernicoff, Adam Hometown: Harrisburg, PA; Lafayette College, PA
Gray, Christopher Hometown: Carteret, NJ; Swarthmore College, PA
Marvucic, Paul Hometown: Bayonne, NJ; University of Pennsylvania, PA
Pamukcu, Erin Hometown: Bethlehem, PA; Lehigh University, PA
Perry, Haywood Hometown: Prince George’s County, MD; University of Pennsylvania, PA
Scarrow, Samuel Hometown: Ambler, PA; University of Chicago, IL
Schofield, Emily Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA; Yale University, CT
Shaffer, Benjamin Hometown: Boston, MA; Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, PA, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, MA
Taylor, Alyssa Hometown: West Chester, PA; London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
Taylor, Zachary Hometown: Atlanta, GA; University of Pennsylvania, PA
Van Oudenallen, Sebastian Hometown: Milwaukee, WI; University of Pennsylvania, PA

Montco Needs Foster Parents

from the inbox:

The Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth and Sam Ash Music Stores of King of Prussia are sponsoring “Music for Kids’ Sake,” a foster care and adoption awareness and recruitment event on Saturday, August 3, 2013 from 1:00-6:00pm. This free event is open to the public and will be held at the Fire Chiefs Bandshell at Elmwood Park in Norristown
 The purpose of the event is to create awareness and to recruit adoptive and foster parents for Montgomery County’s children in need of a safe and loving home. Currently there are over 350 children in foster care in Montgomery County.  Approximately 50 of those children are headed towards needing permanency as they are unable to return home.  This often leads to a need for adoptive families. 
Montgomery County is always in need of foster parents.  Foster parents can be individuals, married or unmarried couples and families.  Montgomery County is inclusive and anyone interested in fostering is considered as long as they are 21 years of age and meet state requirements. 
Far too often siblings are separated, and adolescents end up in shelters due to a shortage of homes. “Being a foster parent is rewarding and can bring great joy and purpose. Our county government works hard to promote and support foster parents and I encourage people to turn out to this event and learn more on how to have a meaningful impact on the lives of children in need in our community,” said Josh Shapiro, chairman of the county board of commissioners. 
There will be four outstanding bands present who are generously donating their time for this important cause: Vibratek, The Mighty Manatees, Allen Reynolds Band, and Christian O’Connor. The MC is Local Comedian, Jim Thomas. 
This is a family friendly event.  Elmwood Park has playgrounds as well as a snack bar.  Feel free to bring picnics, blankets, and chairs.  This event can be found on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/events/687890041225616/?ref=ts&fref=ts.

Ed Rendell and Marco Rubio

This Thursday, July 11, America's Mayor and former PA Governor Ed Rendell is in the news again.  This is the text of a press conference announcement.  The event is in DC so it may not get a lot of local press.

 former Pennsylvania Gov. and Co-Chair of Campaign to Fix the Debt, Ed RendellSen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz will keynote Concerned Veterans for America and The Weekly Standard’s second ‘Defend & Reform’ Breakfast Event.
The federal government will soon hit yet another grim fiscal milestone—$17 trillion in national debt.  Sadly, these milestones just tick past as Americans have grown accustomed to Washington's spending addiction.  However, this type of overspending cannot continue without threatening our economic health and ability to keep our country safe.  Concerned Veterans for America believes only spending reform—across the government and including everyone's “sacred cows”—can put this country on sound financial footing.

Sleeping with Strangers and Other Travel Tales

Between business and family, one thing and another, I was away for about half of the month of June,  and part of May, more travel than I sometimes do in an entire year.  Zip!  Zoom!  Washington, San Francisco, the woods, Washington, LA, the woods, Baltimore, San Diego, NY.  Trains, planes, and automobiles.  I’ve caught up on the newspapers and some magazines, but still have about 3 months of New Yorkers to sort through.  So I missed most of the state budget fiasco and need to read up on state and local political goings on.

A few travel notes:

Sleeping with strangers
No one actually snoozed on my shoulder but on two long flights I was sharing a three person row with two men, both times the men knew each other.  Everyone napped but stayed within the confines of their seat space.   One of the men ordered red wine, which he then spilled all over.  None splashed on me but the whole row smelled like a winery.  The train trips were relatively uneventful, though someone did fall asleep on my shoulder but only for a short time.

In May I bought a Kindle, thinking it would be a good reading venue for traveling.  It is a great way to carry multiple books without the extra bulk.  It has worked out well.  As a luxury I did pack a paper copy of Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden; for some reason it seemed too long to read as an e-book.  That doesn’t make sense but for me a longer book is easier to read when I can actually touch and hold it.  Shorter books, though, we great to read on the Kindle.  It’s also a good reading tool for the train, but it's important to get to get a seat with an outlet nearby.

Watching Children
On one family trip we were walking back to our hotel and went through a public area, shopping and restaurants with a central fountain, with stairs down to the sidewalk below.  As we neared the stairs three small children ran up and headed for the fountain.  There were two boys and a girl, the oldest perhaps 6.  They either found or brought with them a bag of foodstuffs, chips and soda.  They rooted through it, kicked off their shoes and were slashing in the fountain.  No supervising adult in sight.  We’ve run into situations like this before so my family walked on and I found a light pole to lean against nonchalantly, hands in pockets, admiring the blue sky.  The closest restaurant had a glass wall facing the fountain.  I scanned the diners to see if anyone was watching the kids.  A few people looked up at them but then went back to their food.  There was no one else around.  The kids ran around, sometimes in a group, sometimes scattered.  At any time I could have grabbed one and taken off.  So could anyone else.  After five minutes my light pole stance was becoming conspicuous so I found a seat on a stone wall a few feet further back, in the shade.  I did stuff on my phone, one eye on the three kids, trying to keep watch without alarming them.  Ten minutes.  No sign of anyone.   The kids rummage through the food bag again.  The girl seems to have lost her shoes.  They are thin but not unhealthily so.  Maybe they are street kids without a parent at all.  How long does one wait before calling the cops?  Is someone else keeping an eye on things going to call and report me as a suspicious person?  Close to 15 minutes after I noticed the kids a woman comes out of a store and they run towards her.   I get up and walk away, resisting the temptation to go tell the mother she needs to keep a better watch on her children.  My family is waiting for me a couple of blocks away and ask if a parent ever showed up.  My heart is in my throat.  So very many things could have gone wrong and only a few days before I had read a news story about a girl who was taken from a store and murdered.  That could easily have happened in this case, too.

Similar scenes play out in our local train stations.  I or other people notice kids who seem to be wandering on their own and stand guard until a parent shows up.  One day while Mom was paying for something in a store opening onto the concourse a little girl came out and started trying to poke something into an electrical outlet on a column.  “Oh, Honey, I don’t think you should do that,” I said, stepping just into her comfort zone so she stepped back, and glared at me until her mom came out.  Another time I noticed a little boy wandering on his own and walked on slowly, keeping an eye on him. The man walking behind me was nearly stepping on my heels.  I apologized for being slow and said I was just trying to see if someone was with the boy.  “Well,” he said anxiously, “is there?”  He had noticed, too, but didn’t think he could keep watch.  It’s true, in today’s world, men cannot stop and watch unattended children without being viewed with suspicion.  I’ve noticed other women doing the same thing, stopping to watch a child until parent or grandparent locates them. 

Parents, please keep track of your children.  It’s too stressful on the rest of us to see them wandering around alone.

The Sweetest Smelling Cab in the World
Mr. Abebe (cab # 75786) of Patriot Cabs in Washington, DC has the sweetest smelling cab in the world.  Honest.  When I mentioned it he said other riders had commented on it as well.  I don’t know what air freshener he uses but it was a refreshing change from a smelly transit train.

Out of all the hotels I stayed in while traveling this was my favorite.  It’s in San Diego, near the zoo.  The room was spacious and had a kitchenette.   There is a complimentary breakfast, simple but filling, and a coin operated laundry in the lower level.  In addition to the hotel restaurant there is a Mexican restaurant across the street, and a 7-11 on the corner.  I loved it.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

SEPTA Bridge Closing

Starting tomorrow, Monday, July 8th, one of SEPTA's bridges will be closed for repair.  This event is momentous enough that it was featured in a Wall Street Journal articles in June.  (See "Rail safety and the value of a life," by Tedd Mann, 6/17)

Here is SEPTA's press release on the closing"

On Monday, July 8, 2013, SEPTA’s Bridgeport Viaduct — the bridge that carries SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) over the Schuylkill River between Bridgeport Station and the Norristown Transportation Center (NTC) — will close to allow crews to complete a track and timber replacement project and perform minor structural repairs. The Viaduct will be closed through November 2013. During this four month period, shuttle buses will replace train service between NTC and Bridgeport.
The Viaduct rehabilitation is necessary for SEPTA to be able to continue NHSL train service between NTC and Bridgeport. “The bridge was built in 1911 and is showing signs of deterioration like cracks, spalling concrete and corrosion,” said Jeff Knueppel, SEPTA’s Deputy General Manager. “More importantly, the bridge ties that sit directly upon the steel structure and hold the rail in place are rotting and failing.”
A significant loss of capital funding over the last three years has forced SEPTA to defer major construction to the Viaduct despite designs for timber deck replacement and structural rehabilitation programs having been complete since 2011. Instead, SEPTA has implemented a targeted timber repair plan to maintain service via the bridge. These temporary repair measures included installing supplemental steel ties between existing ties and injecting epoxy into the voids of existing spike holes on all ties to secure spikes to the ties. SEPTA crews conducted daily track inspections and a 15-mile-per-hour speed restriction was instituted for trains crossing the bridge. 
“We have exhausted all possible temporary timber repair measures,” said Knueppel.  "Without full timber replacement, we would have no choice but to permanently close the bridge.”
SEPTA had previously repaired the Viaduct twice before. In 1985, the bridge timbers, rail and power delivery system were completely replaced and the steel was painted and repaired. In 2009, the bridge piers were reinforced against scour. The current project will include the replacement of all bridge timbers, as well as the track level walkway and railing system and some structural repairs. The $7.5 million project will be completed by Railworks Track Systems of Sewell, NJ.
On weekdays during construction, trains will operate between 69th Street Transportation Center and Bridgeport Station. Shuttle buses will be used to transport customers across the Viaduct between NTC and Bridgeport Station.
On weekends, trains will operate between 69th Street Transportation Center and Hughes Park Station. Shuttle buses will serve Gulph Mills, DeKalb, Bridgeport and NTC.  Passengers using Hughes Park should remain on the train, as shuttle buses will not stop at that station.
The SEPTA buses will be stored adjacent to Bridgeport Station from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.  Normal construction hours will be Mondays-Fridays, from 6 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturdays from 7 a.m.-6 p.m., however, night work may be necessary to keep the project on schedule.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Loss of a Franklin Institute Hawk

This year I've been following the Franklin Institute hawk family.  The three hawk eggs hatched and the young hawks started flying out of the nest just a week or so ago.  Yesterday one flew into a window and died from the impact.  Sad day for the hawkwatchers.  Read details at the Hawkwatch.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

1% of the 1%

The Sunlight Foundation has produced an interesting report on campaign donations.  Most come from 1% of the 1% of the population.  Interesting read and good infographics.  There is another chart showing statistics on donors by state.

Murphy on the 4th

Patrick Murphy's latest post on the MSNBC blog are his thoughts on Independence Day and American military policy.  See "The fogotten war and the lessons of freedom."

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Sweitzer to Serve on RespectAbilityUSA Board

Philadelphia's Thomas Sweitzer, of The Campaign Group, is on the board of directors of a new non-profit organization, RespectAbilityUSA.org.  According to their website, the organization is:

a brand new national, non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is (a) to reshape the attitudes of American society so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society, and b) to empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American Dream as their abilities and efforts permit.  RespectAbility will work to educate, sensitize and engage Americans to focus on what people with disabilities can do, rather than on what they cannot do.  RespectAbility thereby will seek -- gradually, steadily, and in a practical way -- to help increase the number and percentage of Americans with disabilities who engage in gainful employment, start and sustain their own businesses, lift themselves into the middle class, and participate in their communities -- as fully as their abilities and efforts will take them.

Approximately 70% of working-age Americans with disabilities don't have jobs.  RespectAbility wants to change that.

Bryan Allen for Bensalem Township

Bryan Allen is running for Bensalem Township Council.  He has held this office in the past and also ran for State Senate.  I wrote up a short post about him in 2010.  He's a good guy and I wish him all the best.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

SEPTA Service on July 4

from the inbox:

SEPTA will run extra service on July 4th to get people to-and-from the Wawa Welcome America celebration.
The annual event includes an afternoon festival along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and ends with the night-time fireworks display over the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To accommodate holiday revelers, SEPTA will run extra service on the Broad Street Line, the Market-Frankford Line, City Trolley Routes and Regional Rail.
Market-Frankford Line: A total of 10 extra trains will be deployed to provide service every five-to-seven minutes starting at 4:25 p.m. These extra trips will run through the night to help customers get home after the event. The 15th Street Station provides riders access to the festival site on the Parkway.
Broad Street Line: Eight extra trains will be dispatched to provide service every five-to-seven minutes starting at 4:28 p.m. These service levels will remain in effect throughout the night. Several Broad Street Line stations are within walking distance of the event, including Spring Garden, Race-Vine and City Hall.
Regional Rail: SEPTA will extend its Regional Rail service for customers leaving Center City after the fireworks. A total of fifteen trains will depart from Suburban Station between 11:30 p.m. and 11:50 p.m. Trains will make all local stops. An Independence Day Late Night Service Schedule is available at http://www.septa.org/events/holiday.html.
Trolleys: Additional trips will be added on Routes 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 after the fireworks as needed.
SEPTA would also like to alert bus riders to detours that will be in place for road closures related to the July 4th festivities on the Parkway and other events. Details about bus detours are posted on the System Status section of SEPTA’s Website at http://www.septa.org/realtime/status/system-status.shtml. System Status lists information for all scheduled bus detours, and will also include updates on any unexpected service adjustments.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Constitution Center Free Tomorrow (Hoagies edition)

The National Constitution Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary tomorrow.  Since it is also Wawa Hoagie Day, Wawa is providing free admission.  I've been there, it's fun.  [Special note to Dr. Who fans, remember not to blink when you're in the Hall of Signers.]

Planned events include:

Wawa Hoagie Day build
                        Stars & Stripes School Lunchroom
                        5 am. – 11 a.m.
                        Wawa Hoagie Day begins at the National Constitution Center with 200 Wawa associates building the 4½ ton hoagie. Constitution Center Chief Operating Officer Vince Stango will be on hand as well as Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens and George Washington!

History of the Hoagie Exhibit
Grand Hall Overlook
9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
As part of Wawa Hoagie Day, the Constitution Center will host an exhibit featuring Wawa’s 200 year-plus history, a special program on the history of Wawa, as well as an interactive quiz show about the history of the hoagie.

The 1968 Exhibit
Feature Exhibition Gallery
9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
The Vietnam War. Civil rights and women’s lib. MLK and RFK. Janis and Jimi. Laugh-In and love-ins. Bringing one of America’s most colorful, chaotic, culture-shifting years vividly to life, The 1968 Exhibit illuminates the power of “We the People” to exercise and expand our freedoms. Visitors travel through 12 exhibition areas corresponding to the months of the year—as well as three lounge spaces (bean bag chairs included) inviting interaction with 1968’s most enduring and influential music, movies, fashions, and more.

Social Media Scavenger Hunt
Historic Philadelphia
9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
The museum is hosting a fun, large-scale, social media scavenger hunt that hits all of the most important landmarks within Independence National Historical Park essential to the story of our nation’s founding. Participants will follow clues in order to find special life-size cardboard cutouts of some of America’s most famous founding fathers hidden in “secret” locations. They will then be instructed to follow the National Constitution Center on Twitter or Instagram (@ConstitutionCtr), snap a picture of themselves with the cutout, and tag the photo using#PhillyFounders. Clues can be found out http://bit.ly/16CpiX6.

Finding the Founders
Historic Philadelphia
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.         
The museum and neighboring sites throughout Historic Philadelphia are hosting free conversations with scholars, who will share their insights on equality and freedom through the lens of the American Revolution. For a full schedule, visit constitutioncenter.org/calendar/finding-the-founders.

This program has been supported in part by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Federal-State Partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The 1776 Experience
Front Lawn
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
At our re-created Revolutionary War encampment, right on the Center’s front lawn, practice mustering with the troops, stop by the medical tent, visit the blacksmith, or try your hand at carpentry or leatherwork.

Colonial Demonstrations
Grand Hall Lobby
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Experience what life was like before modern technology with hands-on, Colonial-era demonstrations, including paper-making, candle-making, a printing press, and lawn games.